For the month of January we are Bearded Theologians want to look at Making Disciples. We will have various people write about Making Disciples.
Since August 1, 2016, my primary ministry appointment as a United Methodist Pastor has been at our conference office as the director of discipleship. My role is simply to assist local churches build the capacity to make disciples of Jesus Christ who transform the world.
One passage of scripture which especially stands out to me and guides my work is found in Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23 and Mark 8:34 where Jesus gives us an image of discipleship. He makes it sound pretty easy and yet exceedingly difficult at the same time. In essence he says, “You want to be my disciple. Take up the cross and follow me.” That’s my paraphrase, of course.
Much has been made about the nuances of taking up the cross, but my imagination takes me to the second half of that phrase. When Jesus asked the disciples to follow him, he knew they would learn much about life in the kingdom of God as Jesus himself would be the teacher.
Those three years must have been formational in ways that we’ll never know (we have some scriptural clues, of course), but I believe there are some key components to disciple-making as I see them from my balcony view as a denominational minister.
First of all, disciple-mentoring must be taken seriously. Jesus mentored the twelve disciples and they, in turn, continued to mentor others. This idea is really informed by an article I read many years ago by the venerable theologians – one of them bearded – Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon. The article is called “Discipleship as a Craft, Church as a Disciplined Community” (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=110).
Near the end of the article, they employ the example of how one would go about learning the craft of brick-laying. After describing the many of the key elements in that craft, they conclude, “to lay brick you must be initiated into the craft of bricklaying by a master craftsman.” Making disciples of Jesus Christ happens by teaching, modeling and mentoring others in this craft.
This presupposes, of course, that those doing the disciple-mentoring are taking their own faith development seriously, attending to the means of grace as Methodism’s forefather John Wesley called them. Activities like daily scripture reading, receiving Holy Communion and being held accountable for one’s spiritual growth with other disciples in small groups.
Secondly, disciple-making must begin early in a person’s life. Our Jewish ancestors understood this quite well. The so-called Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) outlines an intense pedagogical method.
4Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (NRSV)
There is a lot packed into that short passage. Recite the words. Teach the words all the time and everywhere. Bind the words on your body. Apply the words to your doors and gates. Live the words in daily life.
Travel to the Holy Land today and you can see this still being faithfully followed all these years later. Phylacteries on heads and mezuzahs, often beautifully adorned with jewels and other designs, on the doors of homes and even hotel rooms. Included in both one finds the words of the Shema.
The Jewish people take the education of children very seriously. I recently read about a German-controlled ghetto created to house Jews during World War II called Terezin in Bohemia. It was unique in that many educators, musicians, composers and other artistic-types were confined there. Hitler’s men wanted at least one camp which appeared to those on the outside as normal and healthy.
What happened in this camp was nothing short of remarkable. In his book Go Ahead: CREATE, retired United Methodist pastor Paul Hamilton offers some interesting reflections on this ghetto. There were chamber music groups, orchestras, art lessons and even many musical compositions. Near the end of his chapter about this camp, he writes about a Jewish scholar Leo Baeck who was transported to Terezin in 1943. About Baeck, Hamilton says, “Baeck and other Jewish leaders insisted that children’s education would carry on in the ghetto” (pg. 125).
No doubt a part of that education was Biblical in nature. Even in the midst of what must have been a hopeless situation, faithful Jews wanted to pass along the important tenants of the faith and they weren’t going to let anything stand in the way of that. After all, it was a Biblical mandate!
Finally, we must realize that we are disciple-models at all times whether we intend to be or not. There was no time that Jesus’ disciples weren’t known to others. One example is found near the end of Jesus’ life when Peter is asked, while standing in the courtyard, if he isn’t one of the followers of Jesus (John 18:17). I read that question as rhetorical. The questioner knew even before Peter’s weak denial.
And for those who follow Jesus, disciple-modeling happens every moment of our lives. When we profess to follow Christ and take up his cross, people should be able to know that we are disciples without us telling them! And if they know, that means we are modeling discipleship in all that we say and do.
I was recently reminded of something I’ve known for a long time. Maybe you know it too … it’s called the show and tell method of learning:
- I do, you watch.
- I do, you help.
- You do, I watch.
- You do, with someone else learning from you.
I have alternatively seen the same process described like this: “Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.”
Isn’t that what Jesus did for those who followed him. He was constantly inviting others to follow him. Take up a cross and follow. Follow and fish for people. Follow to Jerusalem. Follow to a cross. Follow to a tomb. Follow to new life. And all along the way, learn the Jesus way.
It seems to simple and yet so difficult.
Derrek Belase is a husband to Rebekah, father to Madison and Elizabeth and a United Methodist pastor. For 13 years he served local churches before being recently appointed to the Oklahoma Conference office as the director of discipleship. He has a beard, but it’s turning more gray than he would like!